Music, Mediation, Sustainability: A Case Study on the Banjo

Music, Mediation, Sustainability: A Case Study on the Banjo

Jeff Todd Titon
Brown University

The banjo mediates structurally, culturally and historically, and experientially. Structurally, it resists taxonomic classification. Culturally and historically, it is a mediator among African and European American cultures. For that, I interpret evidence of the Black-white vernacular music exchanges in the 19th-century sketches and genre paintings of the American artist, William Sidney Mount. Experientially, the banjo mediates in the old-time string band session as the banjo player creates melody and rhythm interactively with the other musicians. For this, I offer a phenomenological account of what goes through a player’s mind/body when learning and performing a previously unfamiliar tune at normal tempo in a jam session. This constructive, creative, and integrative faculty is expressive culture’s principal act of resilience, and it may be its main contribution to sustaining life on planet Earth.

Continue reading “Music, Mediation, Sustainability: A Case Study on the Banjo”


Carolyn E. Ware. Cajun Women and Mardi Gras: Reading the Rules Backward.

Carolyn E. Ware.  Cajun Women and Mardi Gras: Reading the Rules BackwardUrbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007.  Pp. xi+233, photographs, notes, index.  $65.00 cloth, $24.95 paper.

Nichole Tramel
Indiana University

In Cajun Women and Mardi Gras: Reading the Rules Backward Carolyn Ware furthers the field of folklore by focusing on an oft-ignored area of Mardi Gras studies: the contributions of women.  Mardi Gras has been regularly described as a male-centered festival promoting and highlighting masculine virtues and values.  Despite the professed prevalence of machismo in Mardi Gras runs, women have long quietly participated, supported, and perpetuated Mardi Gras traditions.  In recent decades, women have both maintained their established services and assumed customarily masculine roles in these courirs, preserving and redefining Mardi Gras in the process. Continue reading “Carolyn E. Ware. Cajun Women and Mardi Gras: Reading the Rules Backward.”

From the Editor

Dear Reader,

Folklore Forum is pleased to continue our tradition of publishing the proceedings from the Indiana University/Ohio State University Folklore and Ethnomusicology Student Conference. The fourth annual conference took place March 25th-26th, 2011at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. The theme, “Mediating Culture: Experience, Harmony, and Discord,” was addressed in various and innovative ways by approximately fifty graduate and undergraduate students from universities as diverse as Portland State University, Oberlin College, and the University of Notre Dame as well as the two hosting institutions.  In addition to the traditional twenty minute paper and poster presentations, the 2011 conference also included ten minute paper presentations to facilitate discussion of early stage research. Indiana University alumnus Patrick Feaster gave a plenary presentation about his research in recovering some of the world’s oldest recorded sounds. Another exciting feature of the 2011 conference was the incorporation of Qualia’s 2011 PoJo Competition. Jeff Todd Titon presented the keynote address which is included in this issue in article form. Titled “Music, Mediation, and Sustainability”; it examines the banjo as mediator, largely though the work of artist William Sidney Mount.

The prizes for best graduate and undergraduate papers went respectively to Ozan Say of Indiana University for “Mediation of Belonging: Politics of Saint’s Days on the Island of Imbros” and Meagan Winkelman of the Ohio State University for “McMeaning in the Maw of the Masses.” Indiana University’s Chad Buterbaugh received the award for best ten minute paper for his presentation “The Mediation of Place Meanings in an Irish Story.” The award for best poster went to Timon Kaple of Indiana University for “Female Country-Rockabilly Musicians in Nashville, TN.”

In this issue we are happy to include several excellent articles based on presentations at the conference:

Matthew Hale’s article, “Shaping Theory, Bending Method, Tapping [New] Media: Ethnographic Craftsmanship and Responsive Design” employs the concept of mediation in two distinct forms: the methods of two luthiers as they mediate traditional guitar construction and design as well as the ways such information is mediated in ethnography. Hale calls for scholars to employ evolving technologies to create new “ethnographic things” to allow for greater flexibility and responsiveness. In “Multilocality and the Narration of Place Meanings in an Irish Story” Chad Buterbaugh analyzes the performance of a professional Irish storyteller named Eddie Lenihan, discussing the ways Lenihan mediates place meanings for an audience that may have no prior knowledge of the places in question. Buterbaugh incorporates an ethnopoetic transcript of the text to demonstrate how Lenihan’s performance, as well as the text of his narrative itself, helps to create this meaning. Meagan Winkelman’s article “McMeaning in the Maw of the Masses: Analyzing Fast Food Mash-Ups” takes a new approach to studying foodways by examining the ways teenagers and young adults create new foodstuffs out of already available fast food products. She examines not only the process and terminology for creating such foods but also the social and psychological roles these foods play in contemporary teenage life.

Tricia Ferdinand explores the connection of mediation with artistic creation in her article “Symbolic Ethnic Conflict: Ethnicity and Trinbagonian Identity.” Ferdinand reviews the historical processes which have created the current ethnic and social stratification of Trinidad and Tobago then demonstrates how certain cultural symbols mediate this stratification by promoting a nationalistic Trinbagonian identity. In “The Mothership Connection: Mythscape and Unity in the Music of Parliament” Kurt Baer also shows how artistic creation can be used to create a symbolic ethnic unity. Baer examines the lyrics, albums, performances, and promotional materials of the band Parliament to show how the mythology created by the band posits a place of solidarity and brotherhood.

I am particularly pleased that this issue makes use of the benefits Folklore Forum enjoys thanks to our online publication format. We are able to include good quality images of the artwork discussed in Titon’s article. Hale incorporates video and photographs from his fieldwork in his article and Winkleman is able to directly incorporate the YouTube videos she discusses in her article. As always we hope that readers will use the interactive format of this journal to continue the discussions from the conference.

Kristina Downs

Editor, Folklore Forum